The Washington Huskies are coming off an upset of Stanford, and coach Steve Sarkisian likes the feel of his team entering the matchup with Oregon on Saturday.
"We're gradually maturing as a football team," he says. "We're becoming a much more mentally tough football team, which is encouraging."
The Ducks have won eight consecutive games in the series, the closest being 34-17 last season. This year, the teams square off at Autzen Stadium.
"We've tried to pride ourselves on how we deal with adversity," Sarkisian adds, of playing at Autzen.
"This is a serious group. Very close-knit. They were excited to win the (Stanford) game. But when we came back to work Saturday (after the game), there wasn't a lot of whoopin' and hollerin' and smiling. It's about that we get to play our second Pac-12 game and get to 2-0 in conference play. I really enjoy it. They'll be ready to play because they want to be ready to play. They got a great look in their eye."
The UW players have been guilty of "living in the past" before, Sarkisian adds, meaning with memories of lots of losses and poor play.
"The majority of this roster is here with the expectation that we're going to win a championship in their time here," Sarkisian says.
The fast-paced and athletic Ducks will present a different offensive challenge for the Huskies, as opposed to big and structured Stanford on offense.
"We're fortunate in that we're getting extra time," Sarkisian says. "We've implemented enough no-huddle in our own scheme, we've practiced it enough. I don't think it'll be so foreign to our guys.
"You've gotta be disciplined in assignments, tackle really well and have good eyes ... and in coverage covering guys."
The UO-UW games have been close through two quarters in the past three years, but the Ducks have taken off after halftime with their execution, speed, pace and conditioning.
"I'd like to think, through our recruiting, we have some pretty good depth in place to prevent them from pulling away late in the third quarter and fourth quarter," Sarkisian says.
Says UO Chip Kelly, of UW's defense, led by coordinator Justin Wilcox: "I think they're doing a good job. Athletic, they run around, a little smaller than I think they've been."
The Huskies are giving up 315.8 yards per game.
The Huskies have some good skill players in quarterback Keith Price (737 yards, 59.1 percent, 5 TDs, 2 interceptions), running back Bishop Sankey (329 yards, 5.1 per carry, four TDs), receiver Kasen Williams (25 catches, 292 yards, 3 TDs) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (22 catches, 221 yards, 1 TD), but they are averaging only 313.2 yards per game 119.2 on rush, 194 on pass.
"I think they're a very dangerous team," Kelly says. "Skill-wise, they're good. That's what you expect in this league. There's a lot of offensive skill in this league."
Price made his first UW start at Autzen in 2010.
"Everything they do runs through him," the UO coach adds. "He's got a lot of experience, it's not the first time he's seen things. He's the guy on the offensive side, first and foremost, we have to stop."
With Price as a running threat, "you've got to make sure your rush lanes are where they're supposed to be," Kelly says
Following up on our Oregon offense story at portlandtribune.com ...
Senior running back Kenjon Barner doesn't buy into the "growing pains" excuse for the UO offense.
"It comes down to us executing," he says. "Age-wise, that plays no part of it. You've got to come out and play, regardless of whether you're a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior."
Overall, Barner says the Ducks are getting things done, offensively.
"Not every drive you're going to get one play and pop for a touchdown," he says. "Sometimes you've got to grind it out. It's the game of football. You're going to take shots as well as give them."
Adds coach Chip Kelly: "We look at opportunities to gain yards, and how do we utilize the personnel to the best of our ability. We have an overall comprehensive package in."
Barner has a 195-yard rushing day (vs. WSU) and a 201 against Fresno State.
He has 605 rushing yards (6.3 per carry) with nine touchdowns, and 11 receptions for 111 yards.
"He has an edge to him right now that I'm really excited about," Kelly says. "He understands this is his senior year. He has become a vocal leader of the offense."
Barner needs five points a touchdown to reach 227, which would push him past Ahmad Rashad and Gregg McCallum for fourth on UO's all-time list. His former rushing buddy, LaMichael James, ranks first (348).
Barner also needs 84 rushing yards for 2,545, which would tie him for sixth all-time with Ricky Whittle.
The Ducks have allowed one touchdown in 11 red-zone possessions by Pac-12 foes (Arizona, WSU). They are also holding opponents to 27 percent third-down conversions and 25 percent on fourth downs.
Kelly continues to downplay the Oregon-Washington rivalry.
What makes the rivalry special?
"They're a really good team," he says, "and we're a really good team."